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Martin Luther King and My Father and Howard Jones

This is reprinted from Christian Broadcasting Network. It is important to revisit history for the events that helped shape our lives and determine our future. We must not forget nor fail to remember the truth of events.

Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say that the most segregated hour in the country was on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.

However, that all began to slowly change in 1952 when the Reverend Billy Graham made a decision to stop holding segregated crusades.

He faced an insurmountable amount of criticism for this decision, but with the guidance of King and other leaders such as Reverend Howard Jones – the first black evangelist – Graham changed the face of religion in America as we know it.

The year was 1953. America’s borders were filled with racial tension and uncertainty.

Graham was sailing uncharted territory when he did the unthinkable. He held a crusade in Chattanooga, Tennessee where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of all races sat together and worshiped the Lord.

“When God looks at you, He doesn’t look on the outward appearance; the Bible says He looks upon the heart,” Graham said. And he took his fight to end segregation to the streets.

Graham had been preaching at Madison Square Garden to thousands nightly, but very few blacks came. So, at the suggestion of a colleague, he asked Jones for help. Jones recommended that Graham take his message to the streets of New York, and that’s exactly what he did.

Jones said, “I decided I was never going to speak to anymore segregated audiences and he said, ‘I want it to be that way. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘Go to Harlem.'”

Graham preached at Salem Methodist Church to thousands. The next week, he went to Brooklyn. And slowly, but surely, the crusades in New York became increasingly integrated.

Prominent singer Ethel Waters attended the event and re-dedicated her life to Christ.

Enter… Martin Luther King

Graham even invited his good friend King, to one of the events.

“We thank Thee this evening for the marvelous things that have been done in the city through the dynamic preaching of this evangelist. We ask Thee, oh God, to continue blessing him and give him power and authorities. divine influence,” King prayed.

Graham faced a flurry of criticism from both blacks and whites, but that did not deter him.

“Some whites wanted to know why you would fool around with these people. And some said if you’re going to integrate your team we will not support you. We will not give you money, so they used all kinds of pressures on him, but he said ‘I don’t care. I’m going to stick by my guns,'” Jones said.

On the black side, Graham found himself facing criticism that he wasn’t doing enough so support the black community and that he “didn’t speak enough about civil rights,” BGEA associate evangelist Dr. Ralph Bell said.

Graham went to King for advice.

Graham recounted his conversation with King: “Martin Luther King suggested to me that I stay in the South and hold integrated meetings and that he was going to take to the streets and that he would probably get killed in the streets. ‘But I don’t think you ought to because you are going to be able to do some things that I can’t and I’m going to be able to do some things you can’t, but we’re after the same objective.'”

And so he did, holding crusades from Arkansas to Alabama.

“So here we were with neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood in my state on the verge of violence, and yet tens of thousands of black and white Christians were there together in a football stadium,” recalled former President Bill Clinton.

“And when he issued the call at the end of this message, thousands came down holding hands, arm in arm crying,” Clinton said. “It was the beginning of the end of the old South in my home state. I will never forget it.”

He even went to South Africa preaching before an integrated audience in 1973.

Graham also worked closely with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon – urging them to ensure equality for all.

“Then there’s the race problem, and it seems to me should be put in its proper perspective” Graham said. “It is a world problem… there is greater improvement being made in America than perhaps any great nation in the history of the world because we are at least attempting to solve the problem through understanding, through dialogue, through legislation.

In the end, Graham’s legacy is one that is filled with a message of love, togetherness, and unity.

Jones said, “I think Billy has proven the fact that in Christ there’s no east or west and no north or south. We just love Him.”

Graham said, “The human heart is the same the world over. Only Christ can meet the deepest needs of our world and our hearts. Christ alone can bring lasting peace — peace with God, peace among men and nations.”

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Taking it by Storm!

I’ll let Dennis Rodman be – for now. I am sure he will be releived!

I read, Romans 4:20, “He (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” along with Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

What were the staggering promises of God to Abraham? Even though Abraham and Sarah were well past the childbearing years Abraham would have a son and be the father of many nations. Not only that, God was going to give him the land as far as he could see. He was to “walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17) Abraham was a nomad – wandering in the desert – he had no home to call his own much less a whole land with descendants. That ranks as a staggering promise! Unbelievable. But Abraham did not stagger. He believed God. Not only believed Him but gave glory – perhaps believing God is the best way to give Him glory. Why did Abraham believe? He had experience with God. He talked to God. There was a track record with God and Abraham.

While Abraham did not live to see the complete fulfillment of that promise, Abraham saw the beginning of it. We are still seeing the fulfillment of that staggering promise as we look at Israel today. (I know the Muslims descend from Abraham, too, through Ishmael.)

God personally established a covenant with Abraham. God does not forget or break His covenants. He does what He says He will do.

Even though the promise was real, Abraham’s descendants had to battle for every scrap of land, every city, every town, every village, every well, every pasture, every square inch. It was a struggle. It still is for them. Has any nation been so hated? Has any people been so persecuted? It is a struggle. The history of Israel and her people is a staggering history full of struggle and miracles.

It took determination. Will. Strategy. They didn’t get a free ride on that promise.

Matthew 11:12 says, “The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (KJV) We don’t drift into God’s promises. We are to be believing, intentional, committed, diligent. This isn’t stuff for sissies!

What is God’s promise for you this year? Are you prepared for Him to fulfill that promise in and through you? Are you willing to fight for it? Will you claim it and hang on? Does that scare you? That’s OK. I am sure Abraham had his moments…but Abraham never quit – never gave up. Oh, he came close: passing Sarah off as his sister twice and using Hagar as a surrogate. But God was bigger than all of Abraham’s efforts. God never went off course.

That should encourage us. God’s plans are never thwarted. His purpose keeps marching on through history…what an exciting history it is! Let’s hang on to the promises – regardless of what you are having to endure – stay in His Word, keep telling God how you feel. Talk honestly with Him. He is not afraid of your frustration with Him or your anger or your questions. Let Him hear it all. He invites us to be honest. He is bigger – so much bigger then anything we can throw at Him. And He loves us. God will see you through to the other side. He is faithful.

Let us be faithful and not stagger.

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Now What?

The baby was born. “The angels had gone away from them into heaven…and the shepherds went back…” (The 3 wise mean were yet to come.) Now what? Life would never be the same…but what would it be like? The baby needed to be cared for by a very young and, inexperienced (maybe she had taken care of younger siblings) girl. People were milling about the town due to the census – it was still crowded – they had to register themselves! They needed to find better accommodations – the stable was good during the emergency last night but it was no long-term solution.

Last night was magical but life’s realities closed in on them quickly.

Has real life crashed in on you this morning? The bills arrived in the mail today. The house is a wreck. The refrigerator is beyond messy. The kids are back to quarreling. You and your spouse have fought… You are disappointed with what you received or didn’t receive… Or maybe the house is just as quiet and lonely today as it was yesterday. Nothing changed.

How did Mary and Joseph do it? obviously, an angel told them what was to happen but we aren’t told if he gave specific instructions or for how long it would be… There was uncertainty – a lot of it. But I think it might help if an angel told me something. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t had an angel show up recently! That is not the issue. The issue for them was settled months before when they believed the first angel’s words. They decided to trust God. Period.

And that is where we must place ourselves today… deciding to trust God for the now and the unknown. He says He will never leave us or forsake us – He walks into our unknowns with us. He promises to provide for us out of His own storehouse – maybe not as we envisioned or planned but He will do it faithfully. He promises us His peace when all else is in chaos – draw closer to Him by trusting, depending on Him. And when things don’t go as planned or you are left with many more questions, choose to praise Him anyway. Praise Him in the circumstance.How? Praise Him for who He is and what He has already done for you.

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True Worship

I have been thinking about worship. What does it mean to worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in His discussion with her about true worship that true worshipers must worship in spirit and truth. This is the kind of worshipers God seeks. “God is a spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

I want to be one of those He seeks.

I know my “truth” is in order. My doctrine is sound and in line with that of my church. I quote my ministry doctrine statement: “We believe the Bible to be inspired, the only authoritative Word of God. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal return in power and glory. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose in-dwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe God is a God of redemption and restoration available to all.”

All of that is in order. But what about the spirit? Do I worship in spirit? The answer may determine how you define “spirit”. For this discussion I am not going to assume a worship team, repetitive choruses, speaking in tongues, speaking prophecies. That’s not what I am talking about when I talk about worship. I’m not talking liturgy, the Church calendar, the Eucharist, kneeling, and ancient creeds. I am not talking organs and old hymns out of a hymn book.

It’s not the style of worship that determines our worship. But the spirit. Not the Holy Spirit – though He is very much involved. It is our spirit I am talking about.

When we leave the house on Sunday morning where is our head? Have we just had a family row trying to get there on time? Do we turn on our radio to a Christian station to begin to quiet our hearts for the morning. But if they aren’t playing “our” kind of music, we get annoyed put in our own CD that suits us. (individual vs. community) When we arrive and don’t see someone we know well we feel awkward and just sit down. We bow to pray – but are we just trying to look pious? (hypocrite!)

The service starts and we participate but don’t enter in. The announcements are given and distract us for a moment – none of them concern us so our mind begins to wander. (diversion.) Things that didn’t seem so important an hour earlier now seem urgent. The pastor mentions those that need our prayers for one reason or another – we say a quick prayer for each or as a group. Dispatch it off our list.

Then the pastor begins the “Pastoral prayer”. We begin to mentally make shopping lists, think of friends we need to contact – our minds wanders down any number of unnecessary paths. When the service is over, we go about our day and by dinner may have forgotten all about the message.

Does any of this sound familiar? Are you as guilty as I am?

Like I said, for worship, style is not the issue, the spirit is. Are we just a “place keeper” in the chair at church?

Where is our spirit? Not only on Sunday morning but during the week as we go about our tasks. Do we worship God with our spirits?

What does that mean? I am sure more knowledgeable people could give a better answer but to me it means “focused”, “undivided”. But that does not mean we sit all day to read and pray – we don’t have those kind of schedules. We must be realistic. We have busy, hectic lives.

For me, it means to be aware of Him first thing in the AM – give Him my day. Kneel beside my bed, acknowledge Him as my God and ask Him to make me a blessing to those I encounter. Be aware of Him during the day – you don’t have to stop what you are doing to be mindful of Him. Breathe Him in. Ask His Spirit to renew yours – remember David asked God to, “renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

During the service this weekend we had communion. As my dear pastor was blessing the elements, he quoted Jesus when He said to his disciples, “This is my body broken for you…” All of a sudden those familiar words hit me like a sledgehammer. All of a sudden, my spirit was fully engaged. I love it when God breaks into my heart and life!

I want Him to do that more often. Do you?

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God’s Work in the Corners of this Country

I was in California past week. That trip will provide many stories in the weeks to come! My goodness! What a full but wonderful week it was. (The travel wasn’t so good – but that’s a whole other story!)

My friend, Don Harris, a member of the Sacramento City Council, invited me to speak to his “3rd Thursday” businessmen’s gathering in Sacramento. Not an ordinary businessmen’s meeting – this one meets at a homeless shelter: Safe Haven. What a miraculous place! It was carved out of a block of warehouses owned by a dear Muslim man, Mohammed. I followed him as he walked among the homeless gathered in a park he provides for them – he knew them all by name, their stories, touched them, greeted their children… He provides a place for them to store their belongings, make phone calls, shower, use the computer, job training… So dear. And he was the one who had approached Don about the need for a place for these folks to worship Jesus!

Two years ago the chapel was just a vision – to see the fruition of the vision was a joy! It is a simple but appropriate place where these dear folks can worship. They have a dedicated chaplain, Joe, who came from the streets and has his own story of redemption. It is so encouraging to see what God is doing downtown Sacramento.

Don had suggested I speak on “integrity in the work place”. I am not a businessman – but I do have a small ministry. I talked about John the Baptist. A man of integrity – even when it cost him his life. He’s a great character and illustration of how we are to live in the face of persecution. (I was reminded yesterday that persecution is at our door: If we oppose abortion what happens? If we decide to close our business on Sunday, what happens? If we voice our belief in the 10 Commandments, what are we called?)

From there I went to Lido, CA. in the middle of wine country to speak for the Pregnancy Resource Center. What an important work they do – love the folks who are committed to ensuring life for every baby…but also, reaching out in love to those who choose differently. So honored to be part of their evening. They transformed a high school gym into an elegant ballroom for about 400 guests. Wonderful evening that was smack dab on time!! Love that!

You know, I am really blessed to be part of what God is doing in the corners – and in between – of this country.